By: Tiffany Ferrara
Most of us would consider ourselves to be law abiding citizens. When we think about the concept of breaking a law, our minds probably imagine a huge bank heist or a “Breaking Bad” style drug ring. You know, the "go big or go home" type of stuff. However, there are some pretty common laws out there that you just might be breaking without even knowing it. And, shockingly enough, some of these laws actually carry rather hefty fines as well as, in some cases, jail time. I’m sure that we have all watched enough crime dramas to know that ignorance of the law does not make you exempt from the law. Therefore, to keep yourself in check, read below for five common laws that you just might be breaking.
Using an unsecured WiFi network
This may come as a shock to a lot of you reading this, considering that most of our wireless devices often attempt to connect to a WiFi network automatically. The truth is, using an unsecured WiFi network is actually a federal offense. I’m not kidding. Under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, someone who breaks this law can face fines and even prison time. So when are you safe?
Let me break this down for you. Using the WiFi in Starbucks is fine, but using your neighbors unsecured network is a no-no. Have you noticed that when you connect to the WiFi at public spot, you get a splash page that asks you to accept their rules for using their connection? That splash page is them giving you limited permission to access their network, (I say limited because you can still get in trouble for participating in online activity that is against the rules of usage listed in their Terms of Service). When you use your neighbors' open WiFi, however, that's called "piggybacking" and it is an illegal offense. This is because, just like entering your neighbor's home without permission is illegal, regardless of whether or not their doors are unlocked, entering their WiFi connection without their consent is illegal, regardless of whether or not they have a password.
In some states using an unsecured WiFi network is actually considered to be a 3rd degree felony and, if found guilty, you can be punished with up to a maximum of 2 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. While these charges are somewhat difficult to prove, it has happened. There have been several people found guilty of using an unsecured WiFi network that were in fact charged. However, they were not punished to the full extent of the law and got away with having to pay several hundred dollars in fines and, in some cases, community service hours.
Using a fake name on the internet
There is also a law that was brought about under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act which prohibits users from providing fake information. The verbiage actually states that you may not use a computer “without authorized access,” which includes violating the terms of service that many sites have.
Next time you are signing up for a site, actually take the time to read over their terms of service and you will likely see a stipulation that states that you may not provide false information. Now, does this mean that going by BabyDoll1234 on Instagram is going to land you in hot water? The answer is, it depends. If your name is Sally Jones and you provide that information at time of signing up, but choose the handle of BabyDoll1234, then you are perfectly within your legal limits. However, if your name is Sally Jones and you make up a fake email address under the name Betty Smith and use the handle BabyDoll1234, you can get in trouble.
Essentially, making up a person or impersonating another person online is illegal. So, for all of you amateur sleuths out there who have considered making a fake profile to check out what an ex has been up to, you may want to think again.
Picture this very common scenario: you’re with a group of friends at a sports bar and you casually say to your buddy, “Hey, if so-and-so makes this next shot then you owe me a beer.” Super common, right? Well, according to the Illegal Gambling Act of 1970 this is a no-no. That’s right, you can actually get in trouble for making casual bets.
There are some exceptions to this rule. For example in Mississippi, you can make bets if the money being exchanged is for charity or the gambling takes place on a riverboat. In Connecticut, you can get away with betting if you claim that the person you are betting with is a good friend. Weird, I know (but also kind of useful). Now, while you can get in trouble for those casual one-on-one bets that we just discussed, the real trouble comes when you get five or more people involved and you and your posse of rebels are bringing in a revenue of $2,000 per day. Once this happens, according to the good old Gambling Act of 1970, you are running an illegal gambling operation. Now the fines go up and so does the possibility of prison time.
In fact, if you are caught and found guilty of running an illegal gambling operation you can be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
Even though most people know the term jaywalking, a surprising amount to people don’t know what it actually means and what type of trouble you can get into if you’re caught. The Cliff’s Notes version of jaywalking is simply this: a pedestrian crosses a street without any regard to traffic rules and regulations or safety.
Before we jump too deep into that, and because I like to know where terms originated from, let’s talk about how the word jaywalking came to be. A common misunderstanding of the term is that Jaywalking referred to the “J”-like path someone would take when crossing the street illegally. While that sounds simple enough to be true, it isn’t the case. It actually comes from the term “Jay” which, believe it or not, was once a pretty harsh term for a person who let’s just say, "isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.” This term came to be widely used by people living in cities and they often times used it to describe those who lived out in the country. The insult “Jay” was combined with the word “walker” to describe people who walked across the streets in an unsafe fashion, thus appearing to be less than intelligent. “Jay driver” is a term that originated out in Kansas and refers to a motorist who does not understand or adhere to the basic rules of the road and, in turn, can cause unsafe situations for themselves and other drivers.
Okay, now back to present day and what it means if you cross the street where you shouldn’t. Basically, if you're unsure, stick to the crosswalk rule. If the state paid to put one up, that’s where they want pedestrians to cross. Sure, it may seem inconvenient at times because using a designated crosswalk could result in you having to pass your destination get to one and then back-track a little, but it’s worth it to avoid getting a ticket.
Each city sets their own penalties for jaywalking and some cities are stricter than others regarding this rule. According to some of the research that I’ve done on Jaywalking fines, New York City and Los Angeles seem to have some of the steepest fines, which can be up to $250.
Sharing Prescription Drugs
Okay, so it goes without saying that prescription drugs can be expensive. Anyone who is on a daily medication knows how much some prescription drugs can affect your bank account. Regardless, it is completely illegal to share your prescription drugs with anyone and, if you’re caught, can result in both the sharer and the sharee getting brought up on drug charges on either a state or federal level. That’s right, you can face fines, and depending on the type of medication, even jail time for doing this.
Medications such as opioid-based painkillers and benzodiazepines face higher penalties due to their incredibly addictive nature. But, regardless of the classification of drugs that you are sharing, you can still get in legal trouble. Penalties vary based on specific situations. For example, the charges would be worse if you were attempting to collect a profit from selling your prescriptions as opposed to just giving them away. But either way, you’d be in hot water.
If you’re convicted on a federal level, you could face up to 30 years in prison under federal controlled substance laws. States, on the other hand, have their own penalties for these types of crimes which may or may not be harsher than federal penalties. In fact, the rules regulating prescription drugs are so strict that you can even get in trouble for carrying your own prescription drugs around if they are not clearly labeled. This means that they must be in the bottle that they were prescribed to you in with your legal name and the name of the prescribing doctor clearly stated.
Sharing or selling prescription drugs is dangerous, not only for legal reasons, but for health reasons. Your doctor has prescribed you a certain amount of medication because that is what they feel you need. Therefore, by giving away or selling some of your pills, you are a) not properly medicating yourself, and b) giving someone a dose of a medication that may be harmful for them. Everybody (and every body) is different, so prescription medications should only be administered under the care of a medical professional who understands the proper dosage and any possible drug interactions.
There you have it, five laws that you may not even know that you’re breaking. Essentially: stop stealing your neighbor’s WiFi, delete those fake profiles, call off your poker night (unless you live in Mississippi and it’s for charity or are in Connecticut with your friends), pay attention to where you cross the street, and don’t ever share your prescription medications.